History reveals that as power ebbs desperate leaders undertake desperate actions. Some monarchs have launched wars and Nero watched Rome burn, as the legend goes. And in the most powerful democracy today, there’s rising concern about an erratic President Donald Trump who thrashes around in a worrisome manner as his polling support sags.
“Presidents fabricate incidents that are counterfeit to get us into war,” said American historian Michael Beschloss in 2018 during an interview about his book Presidents of War. “They can get us into war to improve their own popularity, and they know that’s a very quick way of getting your numbers up and winning elections.”
“In 2011, Donald Trump himself tweeted repeatedly that Barack Obama would get us into a war to get re-elected. Now, I think that’s a very dangerous thing in the mind of a president to connect war with winning elections,” said the historian.
Of late, Trump has thrown around threats abroad, and deployed “warlike” tactics at home. He exaggerates domestic threats, and foments violence by courting extremists and concocting conspiracies. He attacks the electoral process itself and the postal service.
But on September 29, his dysfunction was in full display. First, he delivered a truly unhinged performance at the Presidential debate. Then, on October 6, he pulled off a damaging stock market stunt. At 3 p.m. that day, he tweeted that he was calling off all stimulus talks, designed to bail out workers and businesses, until after he won the November 3 election.
The markets immediately crashed. Business leaders and economists dubbed his behaviour as irresponsible. Then, hours later, he sent out another tweet reversing his earlier stance. Overnight futures markets recovered and by morning prices were back up. One pro-Trump commentator shrugged it all off by questioning why investors would pay attention to the President’s “capricious” tweets.
But if the CEO of a public company tweeted out something which negatively affected his corporation’s stock price during trading hours, he or she would have been not only fired but sued by shareholders for damages.
Wall Street was not impressed — nor were leaders around the world — and since then markets have welcomed each and every poll that shows Joe Biden’s lead increasing. This is for two reasons. Trump inspires no confidence any longer and President Joe Biden will open the floodgates of spending to stimulate the economy and level the playing field. Trump has squandered his reputation as the “economy” leader.
After the stock fiasco, there was more strange behaviour. Trump caught COVID, along with many White House staff, claimed he found a “cure,” and resumed political rallies without public health safeguards in place. The stimulus talks resumed but were punctuated by his tweets and a solution reamins elusive. What was the President’s state of mind?
Exasperated Democrats proposed a reform that should have already been in place years ago: Creation of a Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office to rule on the president’s fitness for office. To date, the only check on a president now is the 25th Amendment which leaves this decision up to a president’s own vice-president and cabinet.
The guessing game in boardrooms and cabinet tables remains what he will do next in the lead-up to the election?
Trump tweets have bluntly threatened Iran with military action. He has recently sown confusion over Afghanistan troop levels. There’s concern about the status of negotiations of an important nuclear arms control treaty with Moscow that expires in February.
For the next few weeks, Trump’s rage and absence of self-restraint has shredded his reputation at home and abroad and squarely put markets and leaders on edge.